Three people stand on an overlook, viewing a bay with the ocean in the background.

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

| Burlington County Library

Did you know Asian American and Pacific Islander presence in the United States goes back hundreds of years? The first recorded Asians in North America were a group of Filipino sailors who landed in California in 1587, while the first group of Chinese reached Baltimore in 1785 as part of an interracial shipping crew. By the mid-1800s both Japanese and Chinese immigrants were starting to arrive to fill a labor shortage in the United States. Their contribution to the United States was at a critical time of economic growth and military defense. Today, there are more than 300,000 living Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander American veterans.

AAPI Heritage Month started as a weekly celebration in May 1978 under President Jimmy Carter, who noted the “enormous contributions to the sciences, arts, industry, government and commerce” made by Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. This was extended to a monthlong celebration in May 1991 by President George H.W. Bush. May was given a significant recognition as it marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which couldn’t have been possible without the contributions of Chinese Americans in 1869, and the first arrival of Japanese immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands and later to California.

The coronavirus outbreak has led to a rise in AAPI discrimination and violence. It’s become imperative to recognize, remember and celebrate the many contributions by those who identify as AAPI. These include the most decorated WW II Army unit in US military history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was segregated by the US army and comprised of Japanese Americans.

Others have and continue to inspire and contribute to the growth and diversity of the United States, including:

  • Entrepreneurs Don Chang, founder of Forever 21, Steven Chen, cofounder of YouTube, and Mai Nguyen, cofounder the Asian American Farmers Alliance.
  • Entertainers Bruce Lee, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Star Trek’s George Takei.
  • Writer Erika Lee.
  • Singer Bruno Mars.
  • Politicians Hiram Fong, the first Asian-American U.S Senator, Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American Vice President of the United States, and Andy Kim, US Representative for New Jersey.
  • Kalpana Chawla, the first American Indian woman in space and many more.
Reading Lists